The US is opening thousands of acres of land to coal mining, at the expense of the taxpayer, in a move that will roll back most of its recent climate progress.
Some 10.2 billion tons of coal, sitting on 106,00 acres of public land, have been authorized for sale by the Obama administration today. The Department of the Interior has released its Regional Management Plan for the Wyoming Powder River Basin, and in terms of the climate, it's ugly news. The region is home to the nation's largest coal field, and these 28 new coal leases mean a truly massive stock of pure carbon is about to be mined, for cheap.
An analysis from Greenpeace notes that there are an estimated 16.9 billion metric tons of carbon pollution locked away in that coal field. According to their calculations, that's more than three times the global warming-causing carbon pollution than will be saved, in total, by the EPA's politically contentious Clean Power Plan through 2030.
In other words, if all that coal gets sold, it promises to roll back much of the hard-fought progress the Obama administration has made in its efforts to fight climate change. (As David Roberts notes at Vox, that Greenpeace chart isn't totally fair, as it doesn't count his CAFE or clean energy standards that have also reduced emissions, but the point stands.)
What's more is that the US tends to sell off that coal, which rests on public lands that must be developed, mined, and inevitably polluted, to corporations for a far-below-market price. (And yes, that indeed means taxpayers are basically subsidizing coal companies.) The coal will be bought, sold, and either shoveled into the shrinking fleet of American coal plants, or shipped abroad to energy-hungry China.
There's a mantra you may have heard if you've ever found yourself in the orbit of environmentally conscious circles: Keep it in the ground. It refers to the finite amount of fossil fuels we can burn before we risk tipping the planet towards catastrophic climate change. In his now-famous Rolling Stone piece, environmentalist Bill McKibben argues the science puts that number at 565 billion tons of carbon. If that's right, the Obama Administration just pulled a serious chunk of the planet's remaining carbon budget right out of the dirt.